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FAQ V7 | Virginia Newborn Photographer & Washington DC Newborn Photographer

**** Just a quick addendum to this post since it seems to be spreading around like wildfire. What I posted is how I do things, and most definitely not the ONLY way to do things. This is strictly my opinion, and what works for me. I figured that throwing out a few basics with lighting would be helpful to those just starting out, or afraid of studio lights. If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. ****

 

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I’ve done a FAQ post! Now that I’m home and resting from back surgery, I actually have time to tackle this and do it well. Let’s get started!!

1. “Why did you switch to studio lights?”

This is the most common question I get. I made the switch from natural light to strobe/studio lighting in 2011, and haven’t looked back. I find it is easiest to use lights if you have a studio, but not impossible to do on-location either. I would get frustrated on cloudy, dark winter days that I had to raise my ISO, I never have to worry about the weather with studio lights.

Why do I prefer studio lights? They are consistent, your white balance stays the same the whole time, your exposure stays the same (unless you adjust the light’s power), you can shoot at ISO100 producing the best quality images with no noise. You can also control and sculpt the the light with them which gives you very precise control over your shadowing, which in newborn photography is super important.

 

2. “What made you switch from the AB400 to the Einstein? How are they different?”

I had a few photographer friends who made the switch over a year ago and was loving their results, so I decided to try the Einstein for myself. I can tell you with complete certainty that the Einstein’s light quality is a million times better than the AB400.

I find it’s more consistent in color and power output shot for shot. It’s also faster so you don’t ever miss a shot. With both lights, I was able to shoot pretty wide open, but the Einstein I can shoot even wider open. The digital display definitely doesn’t hurt either, it’s just easier to use and a better quality product.

By far though, what sold me on this light was the skin tones and color you are able to get SOOC (straight out of the camera). The AB400 shot very, very red and most newborns tend to have red undertones in their skin, so I spent a LOT of time trying to take the red out of their skin in post processing.

Here is a side by side comparison. Both shots taken within minutes of each other, camera settings the same, light placement the same, white balance the same, and both images are SOOC and I’d say that hands down, the better image is from the Eienstein:

lightcomparison4. “What settings do you use on your light to shoot a newborn? What about a baby? A family?”

I tend to shoot babies on the beanbag between f/2.0-f/2.5. I do this purposely so that the blanket fades off nicely in the background. I’ve seen people stop down a bit and then fade the blanket in Photoshop, but I prefer to fade my blanket in camera. Plus, it just looks pretty.

IMG_5037

I love how the blanket’s striped texture is visible in the foreground but fades out in the background and is nice and blurry. This image was shot at f/2.2.

Prop shots (single baby) are also shot around f/2.0-f/2.2, again because I want everything to fade off into the background.

IMG_6088

All you have to do when you are using studio lights to switch f-stops is adjust the power setting on your light. Here you can see my Einstein & AB400 settings when shooting at f/2.2 in camera.

Virginia Newborn PhotographerVirginia Newborn Photographer

I typically shoot more than 2 people at f/3.5-f/4.5 so that every person is in focus. When I’m shooting from above, I use my 24-70 2.8L so that I can get a wider angle than my 50 1.2L, so I tend to shoot at f/2.8-f/3.2 on these shots. If I’m siblings from above, I’m usually at f/3.5-f/4.5.

IMG_0094

 

5. What softbox do you use and why? Where exactly do you put your sofbox to get nice shadows?

I LOVE my Westcott Apollo 50×50 Softbox. It’s BIG, but the larger the light source, the softer the light. The recessed edges make it super easy to control your shadows and it’s super versatile, I can use it on Newborns, Maternity, Babies & Families. I have also used it creatively on location for these CrossFit Maternity images.

I always aim to feather my light so that I get nice light going down the baby’s body, the shadows help define their tiny little features. My light is always placed about 90 degrees shining down the head/face.

Here is the correct way to place the softbox to get ideal shadows/even lighting for newborns:

correctnewbornlightingsoftbox

Here are a few pullbacks from that “correct” setup:
pullbackgoodlightingpullbackgoodlighting2

And the resulting correctly lit image SOOC (straight out of the camera):
correctnewbornlighting

One mistake I see often is people place the edge of the box or light source (window/sliding glass door) BEHIND the babies head. Doing this gives deeper shadows and “black holes” for eyes since the light is not feathering/skimming down the front of the baby, instead baby is being lit from the front and the back.

badlightingsoftboxplacement

Here’s the resulting image from that “bad” placement, the differences are not huge, but definitely noticeable, especially in the eye sockets as they are dark and unlit.
badlighting

One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is flatly lit newborn images. I find that lighting a newborn flatly is not flattering to their little features, here you can see the placement of a light for this situation:
flatlightpullback

Too much light coming in FRONT of the baby and not cascading DOWN the baby gives you very little shadowing as seen in the resulting image here:
flatlight

The flatly lit image converted to black and light will look horrible & muddy.
flatlightbw

The image with the softbox placed so that the light is perfectly feathered, the black and white conversion has much more depth and contrast.
correctnewbornlightingbw

Another mistake I see is “butt lighting”, where the light source is placed at the baby’s rear instead of head. This produces a scary “ghoul” look and should NEVER be done.

 

6. “How do you balance your photography business and home life with two young children?”

This is hard for ANY working mama, but obviously most important. My family ALWAYS comes first. I run my studio like a 9-5 job M-F so I do have full time childcare during the week. My older son is in Kinder now, but it’s only half day here so he goes to an afterschool program until I pick them up around 3:30 or 4 every day. I shoot newborns ONLY on weekdays (which is the bulk of my business), and will take one weekend session a week, that’s it. I try to always schedule one weekend without sessions monthly so that we have flexibility to get out of town to my Dad’s farm.

I only edit during business hours when my kids are at school or at night after they are in bed. When they are home, I TRY to not do any work on the computer, this is the same on weekends too. Am I perfect? NO, but I try. I spent the first 1.5 years of my business as a weekend warrior, jamming 4-5 sessions in to every weekend while working a 9-5 corporate job. It was a HUGE sacrifice I had to make to build my business, so I don’t regret it, but it was miserable for me and my oldest son.

If you are going to be away from your kids, please make sure you are compensated for that time. I see too many photographers shooting 200, even 300 sessions a year charging peanuts for their work. Not only does that work out to minimum wage, that’s a lot of time away from the family. CHARGE FOR YOUR TIME. Do the math and figure out what you need to pay yourself in salary, and work your way back. Don’t forget taxes will take 30-40% of your gross sales!

 

7.  ”What do you use to prop/support babies when posing them on their sides/tummies?”

I use rolled up receiving blankets! You can see them on the floor in the pullbacks posted above. I have 5 or 6 blankets on top of my vinyl extra large puck beanbag and slide the rolled up blankets under the bottom layer and adjust or add more as needed to get the pose to my liking.

 

8. “Who are some of your favorite vendors for fabrics, hats, props? 

I get all of my beanbag fabrics & maternity gowns (that’s coming soon!!!) from Roses & Ruffles, she’s not only super duper nice, but she ships very fast and her prices are very reasonable. She has the BEST selection of fabrics. Here are a few favorite fabrics/backdrops I have from Roses & Ruffles:

This blue is gorgeous!

IMG_7393

This is my all time favorite purple!
IMG_0606

Gorgeous green with little sparkles!

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For hats, hands down my favorite knitters are Chickyloo Knits & Pooks & Lulu.

 

9. “I was wondering how you resolve the issue of selling digital files to customers.”

I offer them but I’m priced so that I cover my expenses and pay myself a salary, I refuse to sell digital files for cheap. I covered this issue in depth here.

 

10.  ”I’ve been having so many issues with posing. I can never seem to get a baby to sleep enough to let me position them and can never seem to duplicate a pose from one baby to the next. My question is how do you pose your little ones? How do you ensure the same poses from one baby to the next and transition into other poses.”

PATIENCE!!! When the baby arrives at my studio, they are usually asleep from the car ride over, I will then take them out of their carseat myself (not the parents) and get started slowly undressing them while keeping them asleep.  I take as long as I need to do this to keep them asleep, this can sometimes take 20 minutes! It’s worth it to be patient to keep them asleep.

Once they are undressed and undiapered, I wrap them in a soft, warm blanket and pose them in my arms before laying them on the beanbag. I usually start with either “tushy in the air pose” or the “taco” pose on the beanbag first and I always pose them in my lap/hands and not on the beanbag. Once they are in these poses on their tummies, they tend to settle faster and I’m able to move onto other poses and keep them asleep.

“tushy in air” pose:

IMG_5423

or “taco” pose, these are both my usual go-to starting poses.
IMG_9498

I have a very specific method and workflow with newborn sessions and I cover this in depth at my in-person workshops! The next workshop is on May 12th in my Leesburg, Virginia studio and I still have openings for students. My workshops are small (max of 6 students) and my students get a lot of one on one instruction from me. Here are a few photos from my last workshop taken by my very good friend Lou!

Newborn Photography WorkshopNewborn Photography WorkshopNewborn Photography Workshop

I cover a lot of other frequently asked questions in my older FAQ posts, you can see all of those here.

Hope this was helpful!

Debbie Smith - Love love love this! Such an easy explanation and comparison images! Thank you for your time in doing this!

Terri - Hi there. Loved reading this post… Thanks for sharing. I’m excited to soon be starting to shoot with studio lighting. These gloomy Midwest winter days are a pain in my you know with natural light. Just ordered from Paul c buff yesterday ????. Mind me asking a good method of feathering the light when using beanbag when the baby is NOT in a horizontal pose (tush in air)? Ex: when they are in taco or froggy pose?? How r u switching the angle of the softbox? Also, when using props and shooting from above, where is the light placed? Directly behind the baby? Or does this depend on whether they are facing ceiling (on their backs) or facing camera (in a bucket w/chin propped on forearms)?? Thanks so much in advance ????

littleblog - Hi Terri! I just move the light depending on their pose so that the light cascades down their face. The softbox & stand are both super easy to move. I’m constantly moving it as needed if baby moves, I move baby, etc. way easier to move the light then move the beanbag when dealing with natural light & trying to achieve the same lighting!

Face on hands pose in a bucket or beanbag, the light flows across their face, so still feathered at a 90 degree angle. Hope that helps!

Terri Goetze - Forgot to ask this as well… Still need to order a softbox. Is there any advantage/disadvantage to an octobox vs one shown above? Thanks again ????.

littleblog - The Westcott Apollo 50×50 is the best one out there. the size of it, the recessed edges, the ease of use, and versatility is the only way to go.

Anne-Camille Smith - This was so very helpful!!! Thank you much for blogging this!!! I can’t thank you enough. Truly.

Yuri Pettengill - I’ve heard that we aren’t supposed to use strobe lights on newborn shots? I’ve always struggled with natural light (I’m a beginner) and would loved to add light to my sessions. Any thoughts on this? Has it made the babies wake or startle at all? Or do you just leave the light on continuously? So new, sorry for the novice question. Thanks-ps- I’m so in love with your work :) one reason i started trying newborn photography!

littleblog - Yuri, where did you read to not use strobes with newborns? Just curious! That is not true at all. With a strobe, there is a modeling lamp (light) that stays lit the whole time like a continuous light. It helps you see the shadows on your subject then when you push the shutter the strobe goes off and it’s literally so fast (1/200th of a second) that it doesn’t startle the babies at all. The older kids are more curious of it, but nothing else.

camilla - Hello! Thanks so much for all this helpful info! Not to question you to death, but how do you position the softbox when you are shooting down on them (with you standing above)?

Thanks!

littleblog - Camilla that is a great question! in that case I angle the light down and have it placed around 2 or 10 o’clock in relation to their heads so it’s streaming down their faces and you are still getting the “butterfly” shadow under their nose.

allysha - BRILLIANT, thank you for sharing !!

chris - thanks for a very interesting blog. i am just learning and loved it. I have back problems too so i feel for you. love your work and thanks again for the tips

Dagmara - great blog and many questions answered, many thanks :)

ALina - HI there, thanks a million for this blog post! I was dying to find some information about how to place studio lights correctly for ages! I struggle to have my lighting right with newborns as I have a huge octagon softbox and my strobe is a bit messy, it’s either I have to place it so far so it’s not going to overlight the baby or just feather it,which not always happens right too…if I place it too close, I have to go down and actually reduce my ISO to lower than 100, have you ever heard about that?Otherwise I have to raise my F stops to make the light nicer…I’m not sure why is it so strong, must change it since it’s not working properly….

Laura - What a wonderful post! I also use an Einstein, and although I have never used an AB, I can attest to the Einstein’s awesomeness!! I recently started feathering the light more like you have shown here and the results are just wonderful. Great, great info in this article <3 Thank you for being an open book!

Kristin - Wow!! Thank you for the very helpful post!!! I had always been told to angle at 45 degrees to the window light, but now I am going to try 90 degrees instead!!! My images have been flat and blah and that is exactly why!! My clients always want me to come to their homes for newborn sessions. How much room do you need for your lighting set up? Would it be easy to travel with?

Thanks!!!!!

littleblog - @Kristin, the nice thing about using lights is you can use the biggest room in the house even if it has NO light. You aren’t crammed up against windows with furniture splayed all around you. It’s definitely not impossible to travel with it.

Gabriela - Awesome post!
I have a octagon softbox, do you think I will reach the same results?

littleblog - @gabriela I’ve seen lovely results from an octobox too! i’m sure if you apply the same principles it would work nicely, just now sure how much full body spill (light spreading down the whole body) you would get.

Amy - Do you recommend a specific light stand for the Apollo? Thanks!

littleblog - @Amy, I really love my Bowens Heavy Duty Light stand, got mine at B&H. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/885566-REG/bowens_bw_6618_bw6618_air_cushioned_heavy.html

Emily Crump - thank you so much for putting this together! Wow, what a great post! :)

Nicole - Thank you so much for answering my questions! I love your photography and am hoping to do more newborn photos in the future. Thanks!

Donna - I’m new to studio lighting. Which transmitter and receiver do you use?

littleblog - @donna, I have these:

The CSR http://www.paulcbuff.com/csr.php

and the CST: http://www.paulcbuff.com/cst.php

My next purchase will be this:

http://www.paulcbuff.com/cc.php

WIth that one, you can change the power of the light (the einstein) from your trigger and not have to undo the softbox and reach in to change it.

Erin Kirkland - Hi! Awesome stuff. I am curious to what stand you use? I have a large soft box as well and it always seems like it doesn’t stay on the light well. Any tricks?

Donna - Thanks so much!!! Love your work and willingness to help!

amy - Thanks so much! I was wondering when photographing sitting babies and toddlers do you still only use the Apollo or do you add a reflector or change the direction of it so you get a more even light?

Susan - First off, I LOOOOOOVE your work!!! I did have a quick question on wardrobe. When photographing parents with newborns and doing family sessions, I’m constantly asked what the parents should wear. Do you have any recommendations or do you give them free reign?
Thanks so much for the tips!! Also, do you have more info on your workshop?
Susan

littleblog - @susan, I usually tell them to wear black, if they want shots against a black backdrop for more dramatic, classic look or to wear light colors like white, cream, grey for photos against white/grey which is a more modern look IMO.

littleblog - HI Amy! I use my Westcott Apollo 50 for all ages, works great for newborns, maternity, babies, & small families. I sometimes use a reflector but usually only with more than 3 people.

Rebecca - I am so happy I found this, thank you! What is your recommend shopping list, I just want to make sure I am buying the right equipment

Thank you

Susan Bang - Ok, I don’t know if there is question limit here, but I just thought of another question regarding scheduling. :D
So currently, all newborn sessions I’ve done were scheduled after the baby was born. Which has been working out fine so far. But I want to start scheduling in advance now while the mother is still pregnant. How do you go about this? What happens if you schedule the session 7 days after the due date, but then the baby ends up being born earlier or later? Then what?
Thank you again for helping out beginners like me. It really means the world!! And I really want to attend one of your workshops!
Susan

Erin C. - Beautiful work! This post especially helped me! I recently got in my Einstein light and apollo 50 soft box. Do you have trouble with the soft box mounting on top of the Einstein light? It just seems like the Einstein light is hitting the soft box. Thanks in advance!

Newborn Photography - […] spoken at length about how to use one light in newborn photography here, here, which have also been published over on WestottU here, and here. Now I’m going to tell […]

Susan M - I have just started using studio lighting. I use it more as a modeling lamp though instead of flash. I have 2 lamps a soft box and an umbrella. I see how you set up the baby on the beanbag, but what is your setup if you are using a prop and a back drop?

Thank you for your time.

Rebecca - Thank you so very much for sharing all these tips and tricks :) I use the same Westcott softbox with an AB800. I was wondering if you could tell me how do you get your soft box/light to tilt down. Mine will not tilt like that…maybe it’s my light stand. Thank you again!

Beth - This is a great post.
I have a small room over my garage that I want to convert to a studio.
1. Exactly how much space do you need to set u the lights?
2. I am understanding that you have 1 Einstein light in the soft box. OR do you need 2 when starting out?
Paul Buff has a starter kit called THE GENIUS…. but it has two lights.
THANKS!!!

Tara - Hi. I just found this post and I wanted some advice. I am in Australia and cannot purchase the Paul C lights here. Can you recommend another brand and light that is similar to what you use? I loved this post and your work. Thx

nancy hazen - This is a wonderful guide. I especially loved seeing your lighting set up and the comparisons. I want to start adding those, but I need clients first.

I am trying to start a child/family photography business. I don’t need it to be full time, but I’m having trouble getting clients. I have very low intro. prices right now. Do you have any suggestions for getting more clients?

Thank you so much for sharing this great information. If I lived closer I would sign up for your workshop. It looks fantastic.

Nancy

Holly Upthegrove - Your work is inspirational, thank you for sharing all your tips! I have the Einstein set up, but wondering the SB400 set up. Is it one or the other or do you use both setups during your shoots. Also, do you have a recommendation for a beanbag. I’ve been using a kid beanbag, but feel like I need more support. What is your beanbag filled with and how full do you keep it? Thank you so much!

Holly Upthegrove - I meant to say “AB400″

Janice Morse - Quick question. A friend told me that she switched to constant lighting and it just doesn’t work well for older kids who are moving around. Have you found that to be true? I’ve wanted to switch to constant for newborns but nervous about how well they’ll work for moving targets.

maly - Your pictures are gorgeous! Your such an inspiration. I was wondering do you use a speed light with the einstein? Where is the einstein when you are shooting? I don’t see it. Thank you so much.

Candy Gemmill - Awesome read!! Thank you for such in-depth information with your lighting. I’m just getting things together for studio lighting in 2016 (only outdoor before) and this really helped. Lighting is scary to begin with then with so many options….. I have been waivering between AB and other studio strobes and I think you have convinced me to go Einstein!

newborn session #1 // what i actually did to prepare for my first newborn photo shoot - […] just in case you’re looking to use studio lights instead of window lighting, this article by Little Moon Photography was pretty swell […]

Emily - Great Article!!

For you lights, do you use continous or strobe? I currently have an AB400 and I’m looking at desiging a studio in my home. i don’t have a space with natural light so I have to use flash.

Thansk!

littleblog - Hi there! I use a strobe, an Einstein which is the same company as the AB400. I love it.

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